What is the Difference Between Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism

The main difference between ethnocentrism and cultural relativism is the way in which you evaluate or assess foreign culture. Ethnocentrism involves looking at another culture from the perspective of one’s own culture, while cultural relativism involves looking at another culture by its own perspective instead of one’s own culture.

Culture is the beliefs, values, social forms, and material traits of a particular social group. Ethnocentrism and cultural relativism are two ways in which we assess a culture that is not our own. Ethnocentrism is the act of judging other cultures according to the preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture. Cultural relativism, on the other hand, is the concept that cultural norms and values of people have to be understood with their own cultural context.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Ethnocentrism 
     – Definition, Features, Examples
2. What is Cultural Relativism
     – Definition, Features
3. What is the Difference Between Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Culture, Cultural Relativism, Ethnocentrism, ValuesDifference Between Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism - Comparison Summary

What is Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism is the act of judging other cultures based on the preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture. In other words, an ethnocentric assesses another culture from the standards of his own culture. He is concerned with the similarities between his culture and others. If the beliefs and customs of another culture are different from his culture, he’ll feel that culture is barbaric or savage. This happens because an ethnocentric person feels that his or her culture is the ‘correct’ or ‘normal’ way of living. For example, a Westerner might find East Asians’ habit of eating with chopsticks a silly practice. Similarly, some people may also show reluctance to eat the food of another culture.

Difference Between Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism

Ethnocentrism stems from the notion that one’s own culture is far superior to others. This notion is also associated with colonialism. It was because of this superiority stemming from ethnocentrism that most colonizers viewed colonized cultures as savage. While it’s natural to appreciate one’s own culture, seeing other cultures as inferior or savage can lead to hatred and aggression, causing violence and conflicts.

What is Cultural Relativism

Cultural relativism is the notion that cultural norms and values derive their meaning within a specific social context. According to this postulate, values, beliefs, practices and behaviours of people should be understood within their own cultural context, and they should not be judged against the criteria of another culture. This is based on the concept that no culture is better or superior to another.

Main Difference - Ethnocentrism vs Cultural Relativism

Furthermore, cultural relativism is one of the most fundamental concepts of sociology. Moreover, this concept was introduced by Franz Boas and popularized by his students although they did not use the term cultural relativism. Cultural relativism is actually a popular notion in modern society.

Difference Between Ethnocentrism and Cultural Relativism

Definition

Ethnocentrism is judging other cultures based on the preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture. In contrast, cultural relativism is the notion that a culture should be understood on its own terms, not using standards of another culture.

Nature

While ethnocentrism involves looking at another culture from the perspective of one’s own culture, cultural relativism involves looking at another culture by its own perspective instead of one’s own culture.

Own Culture

An ethnocentric individual will believe that his culture is ‘correct’ and ‘normal’, but a person who believes in cultural relativism understands that one culture is not better than another.

Conclusion

The main difference between ethnocentrism and cultural relativism is the way in which you evaluate or assess foreign culture. Ethnocentrism involves looking at another culture from the perspective of one’s own culture while cultural relativism involves looking at a foreign culture by its own perspective instead of one’s own culture.

Reference:

1. Cole, Nicki Lisa. “Definition of Cultural Relativism in Sociology.” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 17 Aug. 2019, Available here.
2. Evans, Tracy. “Ethnocentrism – .” Lumen – Cultural Anthropology, Available here.

Image Courtesy:

1. “Person Eating Sushi” By Isabella Mendes (CC0) via Pexels
2. “Photo of People in Traditional Wear” By Nishant Aneja (CC0) via Pexels

About the Author: Hasa

Hasa has a BA degree in English, French and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Masters degree in English. Her areas of interests include literature, language, linguistics and also food.

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